Another interesting discussion Tuesday on the Mobile 2.0 Fireside Chat panel was the one that Tony Fish used to lead off the discussion. Tony asked “If Apple is the new Microsoft, and Google is the new Apple, where do Mobile Operators fit?”
My answer was that Mobile Operators are the new IBM.
I assume Tony’s references to Microsoft and Apple were referencing the PC Revolution of the mid-1980s. For decades, IBM had dominated the industry, dictating to the rest of the ecosystem the rules under which they could play. Apple was birthed in innovation that showed the world what was possible in a personal computer world, but it was the open architecture introduced by IBM’s PC group, with Microsoft and Intel at the core, that redefined the entire industry.
The question is whether Mobile Operators will be the IBM that focused on using OS/2 to try to put Microsoft back in their subservient box. Or, will Mobile Operators be the IBM that became a champion of open source, enabling tremendous innovation that only sometimes directly benefited Big Blue.
Unfortunately, most Mobile Operators, by definition, suffer from Big Bell Dogma, thinking they can and should dominate the ecosystem, strong-arming upstarts like Google into staying in a constrained box.
A few operators though, including Sprint and my co-panelist from Telefonica O2, believe that operators have their value-creating role, but we are all best served when we enable innovation that accelerates growth for the entire ecosystem.
Of course, I don’t need to tell you which strategy worked best for IBM…